August 28, 2015
By Mike Fagan
Moose and Molly. Photo by Mike Fagan
Meet Moose and Molly, our two golden retrievers. We lost Moose two years ago, but Molly is enjoying her senior years on our back deck overlooking the garden. My wife and I have always shared our home with golden retrievers since we met 30 years ago. I have been seriously into gardening for the past 25 years, so I have learned a few things about gardening with dogs, some the hard way.
The best thing you can do for your family, the dog and your garden is to have a well-trained dog. We love our dogs for their loyalty, playfulness, and affection, but an over exuberant puppy can be a challenge, especially if you have just had your newly planted camellia bush ripped out of the ground. Obedience training will give you and your dog the skills you need for a happy life together and an enjoyable gardening experience.
A little planning will go a long way to the creation of a dog-friendly garden. Here are a few tips:
Consider a designated dog area or kennel. Leaving a dog unsupervised in the garden can lead to problems. A bored dog will find ways to amuse himself. Dogs like to be with “their people”, so locate the kennel close to the house. My first attempt at a kennel was in the back of the property; however Moose would have nothing to do with it. We then located the kennel on the side of the house with a dog pathway that came up to the back deck. This worked out well as Moose and Molly had a safe environment and would happily greet us at the gate when we came home. We installed a dog door that went from the kennel area into the garage, so our dogs had protection from those afternoon thunderstorms. Also, kennels can be aesthetic and blend into the garden. Google – “kennel design garden” for some ideas.
Garden paths and play areas. A dog that gets plenty of exercise and play time will not get bored and turn your lush garden into a moonscape. Garden paths are aesthetically pleasing and will give your dog a place to run. Moose and Molly in their younger years played chase in the circular paths throughout the garden. Mulch the paths with pine straw, pine bark or wood chips, or use grass paths if you have enough sun. Use sturdy bushes or taller grasses to line the paths as they will need to stand up to some fast moving dog traffic. Also, dogs love to patrol the border of the property. Consider leaving a small space between your border plants and the fence. The pathway around the property border should be largely hidden by the vegetation and will provide ample room for your dog to chase away an armadillo or a raccoon that overstayed their nighttime visit.
Protect more tender plants. Most gardeners will want to plant vegetables and ornamentals that may not stand up well to dog traffic. Try using raised beds, pots or small decorative fences to shield these plants. You would be surprised how well a 2 foot fence will discourage a dog from running through a garden bed. Dogs, like humans, take the path of least resistance. The big box stores sell decorative metal fences that range in height from 1 to 3 feet. You just push them into the ground where needed. Also, they work great to protect newly planted bushes and small trees. You know how dogs love freshly dug dirt, which brings us to our next topic.
Digging dogs. Digging can be one of the more annoying behaviors. Dogs will dig for many reasons: fun, boredom, interesting smells, a cool hole on a hot day, escape under the fence, or it is just what they do. Do not punish your dog for digging, rather redirect and provide other alternatives. I built a sandbox in Moose and Molly’s kennel. Moose loved it and spent many hours there; Molly not so much. Try it; your dog may be the one who loves it. Build the sides up or all the sand will wind up outside the box.
Poisonous plants. If your dog likes to eat weird things you must be careful with poisonous plants. Sago palms can be deadly, as can other plants. Do your research and be careful what you plant. Check out the previously published article “Pet Poisons In Your Landscape” by UF/Leon County Extension Master Gardener Ed Schroeder at hblogs.ifas.ufl.edu/leonco/2013/11/12/poisonous-plants-in-your-landscape/
Find an activity both you and your dog enjoy. Jogging, hiking in the woods, going for a truck ride, and chasing a ball down the garden path are just a few such activities. For a garden related activity I trained Moose and Molly to find pine cones in the garden and bring them to me on the deck. I rewarded them with one Goldfish cracker for each pine cone they retrieved. They got their Goldfish and I got a garden free of pine cones. Seems like a fair trade to me.
Mike Fagan is volunteering as a Master Gardener in training with the UF/Leon County Cooperative Extension Service. For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov